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Arch Environ Health. 2000 Nov-Dec;55(6):392-8.

Unusually high incidence of malignant pleural mesothelioma in a town of eastern Sicily: an epidemiological and environmental study.

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  • 1Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome, Italy.


In a recent epidemiological study, researchers investigated mortality from malignant pleural neoplasms in Italy, and they detected some geographic clusters of cases of this disease. We found a town located in a volcanic area of eastern Sicily to be of special interest. The residents, some of whom were diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, had never had any relevant exposure to asbestos during their professional lives. The results of an environmental survey suggested that a possible cause of asbestos exposure was the stone quarries near the town. The products of the quarries contain fibrous amphiboles, which are used widely in the local building industry. These fibrous amphiboles were identified as intermediate phases between tremolite and actinolite. Samples were collected from buildings in the town, and concentrations of amphibole fibers were evaluated. Fibrous phases were detected in 71% of the samples, and fiber concentrations ranged from a few thousand to more than 4 x 10(4) fibers/mg of material. In addition, we conducted a study on the mineral fiber lung burden in a pleural mesothelioma case. Many mineral fibers that were classified as the same tremolite-actinolite fibrous amphibole found in the quarries and in the building materials were detected in the lung tissue. The results suggest that the inhabitants of the town we studied had been exposed for several decades to asbestos fibers that were present in the material extracted from the local stone quarries. The material was subsequently used in the building industry, and this has caused an increased risk of pleural mesothelioma in the area.

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